04 May 2013

FARE WELL


Sixth Sunday of Easter
Jn 14:23-29 (Acts 15:1-2, 22-29 / Ps 67 / Rev 21:10-14, 22-23)

The first reading today ends with the word “farewell”.  If “farewell” were a song, it may also well be the musical score for today’s Gospel.  Like this:
                   Farewell to you, my friends.
                        We’ll see each other again.
                        Don’t cry ‘coz it’s not the end of  
                        everything.
                        I may be miles away,
                        But here in my heart you’ll stay with 
                        me,
                        My friends with me.
There is always sadness in parting.  More often, those who will be left behind are sadder than the one who has to leave.  But the prospect of meeting again somehow eases the pain of separation and the promise of keeping one another in one another’s heart help everyone involved in accepting the reality of the departure that confronts them.

However, unlike the song I sung earlier that says that his friends will stay with him in his heart, Jesus tells His disciples in the Gospel today that instead it is Him and the Father who will make their dwelling in their hearts.  That is even better!  But what is best is that Jesus gives His word to us, too.  Through the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus describes in the Gospel today as “The Advocate”, that is “The Helper”, the Father and the Son live in us.

Jesus has gone out of our sight but never out of our hearts.  He remains there.  It is His permanent address now.  Thus, it matters less for us to see Him with our eyes compared to experiencing Him in our hearts.  He remains present, and He is present not only to us but in us as well.  For now, we cannot see Him physically but that does not make Him less present today compared to the days of the Apostles; it only means that He is present today in a different way, and we now see Him by faith and not by sight.  We do not believe in Him by seeing; rather, we see Jesus by believing first.

Next Sunday, we will be celebrating the Solemnity of the Lord’s Ascension.  The liturgy today prepares us for that.  Among other things, the liturgy aims to emphasize to us that the Lord’s going away, His ascension into heaven, does not disrupt the continuity in our personal and ecclesial relationship with Jesus.  If, like the Apostles, we left everything behind to follow Jesus, this continuity in our personal relationship with Jesus is of great importance to us.  This continuity in our ecclesial communion with Jesus is of paramount concern for us as church as well, for without Jesus we are a headless body.

The liturgy today, most especially the Gospel, stresses to us that the ascension of Jesus, far from breaking the continuity of our personal and ecclesial relationship with Him, makes the same relationship take on not only a new form but a deeper way of living it out.  That way is the path that can be trod by faith alone.  Without faith, there can be no relationship with Jesus, and with the Father and the Holy Spirit as well.  With Jesus and the Father dwelling in our hearts, “we live by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7).

But faith does not give us all the clear answers to our questions.  Sometimes, faith does confuse us and creates tensions within the community of believers.  Provided these confusion and tensions are healthy and sincere, faith still continues to grow and even deepens more.

Because we now must grope in the darkness of earthly life, with faith alone as our light, Jesus gives us the assurance that we are not at all alone.  The darkness that we must go through, individually and as church, should not frighten us because, as Jesus says, He, in fact, remains not only with us but also in us.  This is His farewell gift to us.  Thus, He tells us as He told His Apostles in the Gospel, “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”

The Lord’s continuing presence in us is His gift to us but it is also our task.  What then must we do?  Jesus says, “Whoever loves Me will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and make our dwelling with Him.”  Do we love Jesus?  Do we really, really love Jesus?  This is what we must do: love Jesus!  And the most convincing proof of our love for Him is in our keeping His word.  To keep His word means, first, to listen to Jesus in prayer and scripture reading so that we may, second, obey His word.  Do we always listen to Jesus?  Do we truly pray?  Do we still read the Bible, most especially the Gospels?  If we do listen to Jesus, do we therefore obey Him or all we do is listen to Him?  In Hebrew, the word for “to obey” is lesmuah whose root word is shema which means “to listen”, for, indeed, the purpose of listening should be obedience.  Why should you listen when you don’t have any intention to obey?  Listen then obey.  Listen so that you may obey.  Keep Jesus’ word: listen to Him and obey Him.

We know by experience that sometimes listening even to Jesus is difficult for us to do, most especially when the truth we hear from Him hurts us to the core.  How much more difficult it is to obey Jesus and not merely listen to Him!  Thus, Jesus gives us His very own Spirit to help us by teaching us and reminding us all that He told us.  For, indeed, many times when we are hurt we are confused and when we refuse to obey it is because we forget.

In the first reading today, we are given an example of the effect of the Holy Spirit on the otherwise confused community of the early Christians.  In their letter to the church in Antioch, the Apostles right away give credit to the Holy Spirit at work in them as they communicate their resolution on the issue of imposing circumcision on the Gentile converts: “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us….”  The same Holy Spirit is still at work not only through us but also in us.  If only we submit to Him totally and strive to be docile to Him at all times, the Holy Spirit will teach us and remind us, even as He supplies us with courage, generosity, humility, joy, and peace, in each and every important decision we make as individuals and as church.  Then we shall see and know that, indeed, Jesus has not left us at all.  With the Father, He dwells in us.

“Farewell” is not a sad word.  “Farewell” means “do well, fare well”.  It is a wish, even a command, for the good of the other.  It means, “I hope to meet you again still in the best of everything.”  When someone tells you, “Goodbye”, which really means, “God be with you”, say, “Farewell.  May we meet again and when we meet I pray that you are doing well.  I wish you well.  I hope you will fare well in life.”

So, farewell, fare well!  And you will indeed FARE WELL as long as you keep the Lord’s word for love of Him.

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